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By: gwyned, gwyned
Jan 26 2015 1:25am
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I. Introduction

It's release time for Fate Reforged, where we return to Tarkir's distant past to change the course of history and return dragons to this war-torn plane. If you're looking for superb analysis of this set's impact on Limited and Standard, I'm afraid you've clicked the wrong link. Instead, it is the purpose of this article to break down this unique set from the perspective of the Standard Pauper player. This set introduces three new mechanics as well as the return of three others from Khans of Tarkir, so before reading this article, it might be helpful to make sure you understand how all these mechanics work. In Part One, I took a look at the creatures and spells that make use of these mechanics as well as the reprints in the set. Today, in Part Two, I will take a look at the 3 major Common cycles and finish off with the rest of the Commons in Fate Reforged.

If you've read my previous set reviews, you should be familiar with my methodology. Rather than assigning a particular letter grade, I will instead note each card as a "hit or myth" and discuss why I believe this card will or will not be relevant. My reasoning is simple: unlike in Limited, you will never have an instance where you have to prioritize one card over another in any meaningful way, and thus a letter grade is not that helpful in actual practice. I also make use of a third category - borderline - for those cards that aren't great, but might see some play in the right deck. Let's get started.

II. Common Cycles

Fate Reforged brings us three major cycles at Common, not including the cycle of "Refuge" lands and a mini-cycle of Manifest cards, both of which I reviewed in my previous article. These three cycles have some of the more powerful and interesting cards in the set, so it seems appropriate to start here in this review.

1. Runemarks

The Runemarks are a Common cycle of Auras, each costing 3 mana, that give the enchanted creature +2 / +2, and also grant a color-appropriate keyword if the player controls a permanent that is either color of the other two colors in that clan's wedge. The Sultai one, granting Deathtouch, is probably the least powerful; with the Mardu and Jeskai ones (granting First Strike and Flying respectively), being the most powerful; and the other two (granting Trample and Vigilance) somewhere in the middle. In general creature Auras are not fantastic in Standard Pauper due to the presence of good removal. But now, with removal becoming slower and more expensive, as well as the presence of Heroic, at least renders them playable, assuming you can reliably activate the keyword ability. In fact, playing these on a creature that is one of the two requisite colors is probably your best bet to ensure you don't get blown out by well-timed removal.

Verdict: Borderline - I'd mark these as playable, but hardly the top of the clan.

2. ETB Modal Creatures

The second cycle is comprised of five creatures that either come into play as vanilla creatures with a single +1 / +1 counter that brings them up to appropriate stats for their casting or as a slightly underpowered creature with a minor secondary ability. Specifically, with the counters, you get a 2/2 for 1G in Green, a 3/3 Flying for 3UU in Blue, a 4/6 for 5R in Red, a 2/3 for 2B in Black, and a 3/2 for 2W in White. As vanilla creatures, only the Ainok Guide or Aven Surveyor would see any play, and not much at that. As for the secondary abilities, they are mostly marginal, with the Ainok Guide being terrible and the Aven Surveyor being good. For the Defiant Ogre, Artifacts are not currently much of an issue in the format; for the Hooded Assassin, having to deal damage to a creature before being able to destroy it is a pretty serious liability; and for the Sandsteppe Outcast, a 1/1 Spirit token with Flying is fine but generally not amazing. I predict only the Surveyor and Outcast will see play, but only in specific decks. This cycle is interesting, but ultimately not that good.

Verdict: Myth - Ainok Guide, Defiant Ogre, Hooded Assassin; Borderline - Aven Surveyor and Sandsteppe Outcast - I wouldn't count them out entirely, but I don't expect to see them enter the battlefield very often.

3. Multicolor Instants

Multicolor is one of the few places where we can still see some pretty powerful or complex cards at Common, and this cycle of multicolor Instants does not disappoint. Cunning Strike is perhaps the most fair of the five, essentially giving you 'deal 2 damage to target creature and deal to damage to target player' for 2R, combined with 'draw a card' for another 1U, combined together at Instant speed. Ethereal Ambush looks like card-disadvantage at first blush, but in reality using those cards with Manifest is no worse than simply milling them away; the result is thus a 3GU Instant that summons two 2/2s at Instant speed, which is an excellent combat trick. Grim Contest is one of the better Fight cards printed at Common, with the strange variant of deal damage equal to its Toughness rather than its Power. Fall of the Hammer is arguably better, but in both Green and Black, this is as close as we get to cheap, Instant speed removal. Harsh Sustenance is the pick of the cycle, with a power level on par with Corrupt and acting as a virtual Lightning Helix even with just three creatures in play. Finally, War Flare is a slightly stronger Inspired Charge, with the added benefit of untapping all your creatures as well. These are all playable at worst; and Harsh Sustenance in particular should see widespread play.

Verdict: Borderline - Cunning Strike, Ethereal Ambush, Grim Contest, and War Flare; Hit - Harsh Sustenance. This cycle is good enough it should be an Instant hit.

III. Non-Mechanic, New Commons

Fate Reforged has another 23 new cards at Common that aren't tied into any of the mechanics and don't fit into any of the cycles either. While most of these are subpar, there are a number of interesting cards that will probably see play in the upcoming metagame.

1. Ambush Krotiq joins Invasive Species as another Green creature that forces you to return another creature you return to its owner's hand when it enters the battlefield. A 5/5 for 5G with Trample in Green is about on par in Standard Pauper, so the so-called detriment of having to return another creature to your hand seems a bit unfair. Having Trample is a nice bonus, since otherwise it's just a dumb beater than can be chump-blocked into irrelevance by your opponent. Still, you would only want to play this in a deck that can take advantage of 'enters the battlefield' type effects. Sadly, these type of effects have been on the wane at Common. Worse, Invasive Species has not seen much play, and I'm not sure Ambush Krotiq is better enough to change that.

Verdict: Borderline - Calling this playable but not great shouldn't catch you unawares.

2. Ancestral Vengeance is an interesting Weakness variant, allowing you to get rid of a single 1 Toughness creature and boost one of your own creatures by 1. I can't help but wonder if this started off as a Bolster card, since it essentially works the same way. In any case, this is a fair cost for these two effects, but ultimately neither of them is good enough, even in combination, to be worth a card. Black already has both Pharika's Cure and Debilitating Injury, which most of the time are going to be better than this card. Perhaps if there were greater incentive to gain +1 / +1 counters this might be worth considering, but as is I can't imagine a scenario where this would see any play.

Verdict: Myth - If this is the best your ancestors can do, there is little reason to fear.

3. Lone Missionary returns, with more Toughness and less incidental Lifegain in the form of Arashin Cleric. White has been seeing a noticeable uptick in creatures with 3 Toughness for 1W, and the bonus of 3 life when it enters the battlefield is a pretty nice boost, especially against Aggro decks. The biggest difference that separates this from Lone Missionary is the fact that a 1/3 is much less relevant than a 2/1, at least in White, where you typically are more Aggro than Control. If a Bant-style deck that takes advantage of 'enters-the-battlefield' effects comes into the metagame, this might find a home. But otherwise, White simply has much better things to do with two mana.

Verdict: Myth - Any rashin-al person would look elsewhere for a solid White playable.

4. Archers of Qarsi is downright weird as a virtual wall with high Power and low Toughness. Without Defender, a 5/2 for 3G with Reach would be fair enough on its own, so the inability to attack is a major downside for a card that really shouldn't need it. Having only 2 Toughness means it will almost never block more than once, and isn't enough to allow it to survive when utilizing Fight-type effects. At best, this is a 3G Sorcery speed removal spell for Flyers, but one that your opponent gets to choose when you cast it. But if Green removal for Flyers is what you're looking for, Plummet is so much better. As such, these archers should not see any play, either now or in the future.

Verdict: Myth - These archers always miss.

5. Apparently we need more cards like Suntail Hawk, as Aven Skirmisher is nearly identical to that card. Which is bad news, because despite the strange attraction players have to 1/1 Flying creatures for 1, this creature isn't relevant enough to be worth a card. It might be decent in an Aggro archetype when you have it in your opening hand, but it's a terrible draw at almost any other point in the game. Even if you win with this card, I would argue that you probably would have won that game anyway. True, it is a Warrior, and true it does help to activate Raid. But even in those cases, I still strongly contend this is not a card that you want to play in your deck. Trust me, don't play this.

Verdict: Myth - I wouldn't trust this in a skirmish, much less a wizard's duel.

6. It often seems like Zendikar block was the high point of power and complexity at Common, and Bathe in Dragonfire only emphasizes that intuition. This is functionally equivalent to the excellent Flame Slash, but now costs 2R instead of a single R. Of course, that doesn't mean it's not playable. In fact, one of Red's major weaknesses is its inability to normally deal with creatures with greater than 3 Toughness. Obviously Bathe in Dragonfire fills that hole quite nicely. That said, it's expensive enough that it probably doesn't belong in a RDW-type list, but in a more midrange or Control archetype, this seems like it would fit in quite nicely against a lot of different decks.

Verdict: Borderline - I expect more from dragon fire, but I guess this will have to do.

7. Goblin Grenade goes mainstream with Collateral Damage, allowing you to sacrifice any creature instead of just Goblins. While this card deals less damage, the fact that you can cast it at Instant speed makes this a significant upgrade. Most Red decks have no shortage of disposable creatures, and with such a sacrifice you're essentially getting a Lightning Bolt out of this, which is one of the premiere Commons of all time. This should easily find a spot in both Boros Tokens and in RDW, and is flexible enough that it may even see play in almost any deck running Red. With the disappearance of Instant speed cheap removal, this is a great option in Red's arsenal.

Verdict: Hit - Assuming the collateral you pay is cheap enough, this damage is quite strong.

8. Enhanced Awareness continues to push the ability to draw three cards at Common. Back in the day, Amass the Components was quite strong, and given that this is an Instant for only one additional mana, this seems like a great tool in the Blue Control archetype. Of course, with Treasure Cruise in the same block, this card probably won't make as big of an impact as it would have otherwise, since by turn 5 you can often cast Treasure Cruise for a similar cost and keep all three cards you draw. But at Instant speed, decks that are emphasizing permission spells might actually prefer this, since it gives them a good option on turns where they choose not to counter. This is strong, but I'm uncertain exactly where it will slot it.

Verdict: Hit - Even with my awareness of the enhanced value of Treasure Cruise, I think this is good enough.

9. Feral Krushok is just another big Green beater in a format where they just aren't relevant enough to make the cut. Even in a format like Standard Pauper, vanilla creatures just aren't what you want to be doing. Even in an ideal world where you ramp this out on turn 4, your opponent probably has the ability to deal with it before it becomes too much of a problem. With Trample, this might be a great option for the curve topper for a dedicated Stompy build, but even in that case a player might choose other options. 5 Power is a lot though, and if you can keep the board clear or simply force your opponent to make bad blocks every turn, this certainly will kill your opponent quickly.

Verdict: Myth - I'm just not wild enough about this to call it playable.

10. If you really want to go all in on a massive vanilla creature, Gore Swine might just be a better option. Getting 4 Power for 2R is quite good, but of course it comes with the sizable drawback of dying to any sort of damage or removal in the format. But drop this turn 3, then enchant it with Temur Runemark, and if it survives you have a 6/3 Trample that can punch through your average blocker and deliver some punishing amounts of damage. All that said, even such a hyper-Aggro list would probably prefer Borderland Marauder, which for 1 mana cheaper deals almost as much damage and is more like to survive multiple rounds of combat. As such, I don't think this will see any play.

Verdict: Myth - Maybe if this pig could fly, but it's too easily turned into bacon.

11. And so we get yet another vanilla creature in Great-Horn Krushok, which is simply a functional reprint of Siege Mastodon with a more generic creature type. The 5 Toughness means that your opponent will have a hard time dealing with this, and honestly it might be better than its cousin Feral Krushok, but that's hardly a ringing endorsement. What more can I say about these type of creatures? They're big, they're somewhat expensive, and most of the time you can simply find much better options in the format. In Limited, this will see some play, as it's easily playable. But in Standard Pauper, unless there is some payoff for Beast synergies, this won't ever make the cut.

Verdict: Myth - Don't be shocked when its horn is greater than its relevance.

12. Lightning Shrieker asks the question, 'what would it take to get a 5/5 flying Dragon at Common?' And at first glance, it's hard to believe this is the right answer. It's got Trample and Haste, dodges Sorcery speed removal, and is a bargain at only 4R. But on further analysis, this is remarkably similar to Lava Axe, which deals a similar amount of damage for the same cost. Of course, it may kill a creature instead, but Trample means that most of the time your opponent is incentivized not to block it. The fact that you get to shuffle it back into your Library is nice, but much of the time you probably won't see this card drawn again. It's a cool Common, but probably not all that relevant.

Verdict: Borderline - Don't shriek at me for saying that this might just find a home.

13. Pressure Point is the close cousin to Defiant Strike, and both work well in a world with Prowess. Pressure Point, however, does not (normally) trigger Heroic, and costs one additional mana as well. On the other hand, tapping an opponent's creature has a noticeable effect on the board, whereas a single point boost in Power is much less relevant. Right now Defiant Strike is played exclusively in both Boros Heroic and White Weenie, where its value is tied to its ability to activate Heroic. Lacking that, I don't believe that Pressure Point will find a home in either of those decks. However, in a dedicated Azorius Prowess deck, this potentially could see some play. It's marginal, but not terrible.

Verdict: Borderline - I won't pressure you to play this; I hardly see the point.

14. Sadly, we've come a long way since the days of Mana Leak. Rakshasha's Disdain is the counterspell variant for the set, and it's easy to see why this is pretty bad.  It's the same converted mana cost as Cancel, but is way more conditional. In fact, if you don't have any cards in your Graveyard, this card literally does nothing. And while Delve does incentivize you to fill your Graveyard with cards, it also regularly removes all of them, rendering any potential synergy pretty much moot. Unless you're simply trying to squeeze in a counter when you don't reliably have access to double Blue, there is absolutely no reason to play this card. And even then, Negate will probably be sufficient for your needs. 

Verdict: Myth - I have absolute disdain for this card.

15. Speaking of card file fillers, Reach of Shadows is our 5 mana Black removal spell for Fate Reforged. On initial glance, its conditional seems equivalent to the typical artifact creatures exclusion. But in this case, not only does it not affect those, it also cannot target Morph or Manifest creatures either, at least not while they are face-down. Flesh to Dust has no such exclusions, and has the same converted mana cost (but requires an additional colored source), and even prevents Regeneration. And given the cost, I can't imagine ever wanting more than 4 copies of this type of effect in my deck. I like the way this card fits in the Khans of Tarkir block. But that doesn't mean that I will ever play it.

Verdict: Myth - Too many restrictions puts this one out of reach.

16. Refocus is a cantrip that doesn't really provide a full card worth of value. What it does do, however, is provide a cheap spell to activate Prowess or to fill up your Graveyard for Delve. Treasure Cruise has recently seen bans in formats with lots of quick spells such as this, and as such this might be worth considering in the Izzet Control archetype. Additionally, if you can utilize it to create a surprise blocker against your opponent and kill one of his creatures without trading, you've gotten a full card worth of value at that point and drew a replacement as well. Still, these are pretty marginal upsides for this card, and even then I would be willing to bet you have better cards to include in your deck.

Verdict: Borderline - Maybe I need to refocus my card evaluation and just call this unplayable.

17. Return to the Earth is a nice Green catch-all, acting as a Naturalize and Plummet rolled into one card, but requiring you to pay double the cost for either effect. This is the first time in Standard that these three options have been included on a single card, which is certainly good value. On the other hand, I don't think I would ever include this in my maindeck, but as a Sideboard option, it does have the advantage of being a 'silver-bullet' against a variety of different effects. The fact that it is also an Instant is a nice bonus. Still, given the added expense and its somewhat narrow application, this may not even be worth a slot in your Sideboard unless the metagame ensures that you'll have multiple targets every game.

Verdict: Borderline - I'm unsure as to how often I will return this to my virtual binder unplayed.

18. Another card we typically see at Common is a White Instant that destroys attacking or blocking creatures. Sandblast is just such a card, but deals 5 damage instead of unconditionally destroying the creature. While most of the time 5 damage will be more than sufficient to kill the creature in question, with both Heroic and Prowess in the set, there will be spots where this might not be enough damage to finish it off. Besides, the current card pool includes both Kill Shot and Divine Verdict, and I would probably play either of those cards before Sandblast, even though it does have the option to target blocking creatures as well. It's not a matter of it not being good. It's just in those rare spots when it really matters, I want the sure-fire kill.

Verdict: Myth - Blasting it with sand isn't nearly as good as shooting it dead.

19. Sibsig Host is a card that should only see the light of day during an episode of "5-drop or Zombie," as it is otherwise a very mediocre card. For 4B, you end up with a mere 2/6 vanilla, with the additional stipulation that all players have to mill the top three cards of their Library into their Graveyard. Cards like this are certainly not total garbage - after all, Armored Skaab from Innistrad certainly saw play in some decks. But this card simply is too expensive, and its stats too defensive, to see any play in the format. Perhaps the only good thing that can be said about it is that it makes an awesome target for Grim Contest, since it will kill anything! So that's something I suppose...

Verdict: Myth - Don't host this card in any of your decks.

20. It saddens me that we still see 2/2s for 2 in both Red and Black that have a downside. Smoldering Efreet would already be fairly marginal as essentially just a vanilla 2/2 for 2, but just to make sure you don't ever want to play it, it also deals 2 damage to you when it dies. It doesn't have any relevance as a creature type, doesn't synergize with any of the mechanics in the set, and while it might be flavorful, the flavor isn't unique to the plane of Tarkir. I suppose Wizards has some specific purpose in printing bad cards, but with the reduced number of Commons in a small set, I hate that they have to waste space with junkers like these. In case that wasn't clear enough, don't play this card.

Verdict: Myth - I'm still smoldering with rage over having to review this card.

21. If you really want to focus on filling up your Graveyard early to activate Delve, then Sultai Skullkeeper might just be what you're looking for. It's a pretty marginal card, but if you're going all-in on Delve, then this certainly gives you some decent value for your 1U. Outside of that specific use, this card is pretty bad. In Limited, you'll almost always play a 2 Power creature for 2, but in Standard Pauper, we demand more of our 2 drops. Unlike the last card at least, I can understand why this card saw print and how it fits into the design space. But that still doesn't mean I will ever play this card. And even in a dedicated Delve deck, you probably shouldn't play it either. There are simply better ways to fill up your Graveyard.

Verdict: Myth - I'll have to keep repeating this until it bores into your thick skull: this isn't a good card.

22. Whisk Away is our final card for the set, and it's actually pretty decent. We last saw this effect as Time Ebb in Magic 2014, where it targeted any creature but only at Sorcery speed. Whisk Away is an Instant, but requires that creature to be attacking or blocking in order to return it to the top of the Library. Unlike bounce spells such as Voyage's End, this is actual removal, since it actually takes away your opponent's draw step to return it to their hand. And like Voyage's End, it also is a great way to deal with tokens or Heroic creatures, since the former will disappear forever while the latter will be reset to their base stats. In Blue, this occupies a nice place between removal and tempo gain, and should see play.

Verdict: Hit - I don't want to get carried away, but this is actually pretty good removal for Blue.

IV. Summary

Fate Reforged looks to be pretty on-par as far as small sets are concerned. While the majority of cards will not see much play, there are certainly a decent number of them that will fit right into existing archetypes and have a noticeable effect on the format. For reference, here are my top picks for Standard Pauper from Fate Reforged, in no particular order:

 

 

 

 

 

V. Conclusion

So that concludes my review of Fate Reforged for Standard Pauper. In closing, let me remind you that you can check out all of my previous articles here on PureMTGO by clicking here. I also publish over on my blog on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and encourage you to keep up with all my projects there. You can get a sneak peek at any of my videos before they go live here at PureMTGO.com over on YouTube.com. Simply search for "gwyned42," select one of my videocasts, and click the Subscribe button. You can keep up with everything I'm doing on Twitter at the username gwyned42; check out my profile here and click on Follow. Finally, I am the host of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge, which is a weekly PRE featuring a Swiss tournament in the Standard Pauper format, with prizes awarded for the Top 8 finishers thanks to the sponsorship of MTGOTraders. As always, if you've never checked out MPDC, I encourage you to browse over to PDCMagic.com for all the information and then come join us at 2:00pm EST / 7:00pm GMT in the /join MPDC room.

Finally, don't forget that I am running a special 'league-style' Player Run Event called Standard Pauper Sealed League. Click here for an explanation of the format, and here for all of the pertinent details. This is going to be a great event, and I'd love to have as many people participate. Hope to see you then!